Yesterday, I met with one of my writer friends for a short story brunch. It was going to be a short story lunch on Thursday, but I had on Tuesday, I found out that I had to go to a meeting that was only being scheduled then.
I'm so fortunate that I have a brain that can make alternate plans. I know many a person who would say, "Ah, well, guess I can't have a short story lunch. I have to go to a meeting."
My brain says, "Well, maybe my friend will meet me on Friday. But maybe she won't want to drive back in on a day that she doesn't have to be on campus. Well, then, I'll meet her on her side of town. Or maybe we could try this plan." On and on my brain will go.
Happily, I have friends who also can be flexible. Imagine if my friends said, "Well, if you can't follow through with the original plan, I don't want to have anything to do with you"--I'd have no social life at all. But my friend agreed to move our short story lunch to a short story brunch, and we had a great time.
Once upon a time, I wrote a lot of fiction; I had a vision of writing my way out of my teaching job. I wanted to write a best seller that would be turned into a movie, and I'd be set for life--you probably recognize this fantasy.
One time, I had a friend (the one who still meets me at Mepkin Abbey), and for a time of several years, we met once a week and read each other's short stories. It was an amazing time. I churned out story after story. During the summer, we met at each other's houses and cooked and talked and read our stories. During the non-summer, we'd often go out for dinner. It was great. Then I moved, and she took a different job. Other people might have been able to keep going by sending stories across the distance. We could not.
Yesterday was the first day in about 14 years that I sat with a friend to read each other's short stories. It was great. More than feedback, I need to know that we have a date, and I'd better appear with a short story in my hand.
I had some trouble understanding my friend's first paragraph of her story and how it had anything to do with the rest of the story. We talked about the cultural stuff that she was trying to incorporate; I learned a lot about Indian culture, and we talked about how I didn't see it in the story.
We went our separate ways; when she returned for book club, she had completely rewritten the beginning, and it was so much stronger. Hurrah!
Our book club had a great discussion of James Michener's The Source. We came from such a variety of backgrounds:
Religion: 2 Jews (one several decades older than the other), 1 atheist, 1 Lutheran (me), 1 Catholic, 1 Hindu, 1 indeterminate
History of immigration: German immigrant, Indian immigrant (with a German grandmother who fled Germany to India), 1 with a mother who fled from Cuba and grandparents on the father's side who experienced the Holocaust, 1 of Chinese-Jamaican descent, Brazilian immigrant with family ties to Mexico, 1 whose family several generations ago fled eastern Europe, and me, a more traditional U.S. citizen whose ancestors have been in this country for over a century.
Wow. I didn't realize how varied we are until I wrote it out. Of course, in some ways, we're not varied. We're all females who work at the same place.
We don't do this for every book club, but we brought food that fit with the theme of the book. What a treat it was to talk about a good book and history and our personal stories over a great meal.
And then, my friend and I went to pick up our spouses at a dog track. Our school had done some design work, but we got there too late to hear/see the presentation. We watched a few races and took in the strange world that is the dog track attached to a casino and a restaurant. It's totally outside my frame of reference. It's also strange to me that I've lived down here since 1998, but haven't been to a dog or horse track. I haven't been to a casino either, for that matter.
I expected to feel weirder about the greyhound racing than I did. The world of gambling was far more disconcerting to me, and I'm not sure why. Maybe because there was table after table, slot machine after slot machine, all those people, sure to lose their money.
When we sat at the restaurant, a person in a dog suit walked by and posed for pictures, and later, at the race track, the person in the dog suit walked as part of the greyhound procession. It took me back to a job I had in high school, where a department store wanted a few drama students to come to dress in international costumes and to spend 8 hours walking around the store, delighting children and handing out fliers.
I record this here, because I'm in the process of writing a cycle of linked short stories about teenagers who are punk rockers and drama geeks in the 1980's, who go to college and grow up to face new challenges. I'm likely to need a few more short stories than I have (or than I have ideas for). I think there's a kernel of a story in the idea of costumes and drama students working in fields that are only tangential to what they'd had in mind.
In fact, I'd go further and use that idea as a defining metaphor for many of us at middle age who wake up in jobs that are far from our dream jobs--but they're good enough, and they come with their own unanticipated joys.
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